Tiny Homes Offer Homeless Temporary Stability As They Search For Their Forever Home.

When Krystalrose Shirley heard an envelope drop through her letterbox earlier this year, she had no idea it would be a notice of eviction.

Although having experienced two tumultuous years living in dire rented conditions, the single mum admits she still clung to the hope that her landlord would solve the problem – but not by forcing her and her young daughter to leave the property through a Section 21 eviction. 

‘I kept complaining about the severe damp and mould,’ remembers Krystalrose, 27. ‘It was all over the walls, got into my daughter’s cot and my wardrobe. We had to live with our clothes in dusting bags. 

‘I had to buy my daughter a new bed, as it eventually made its way into that mattress too.’

Krystalrose spent six anxiety-filled months trying to find a new home for them both. As time ticked by, the fear that she and her daughter might find themselves without a roof over their heads became closer to reality. 

Then, just 48 hours before her eviction, the council gave her a verbal offer of a private-rented property, but it would only be temporary.  

‘I felt like I had no control,’ admits Krystalrose, recalling the pressure she felt under to agree to any old property, just so she could avoid being homeless.

With 126,000 children already homeless in England, according to the latest government figures, a new poll carried out by YouGov for the housing charity Shelter has just revealed further shocking statistics – a whopping 200,000 children are under threat of eviction from privately rented accommodation this winter. 

‘When you’re struggling to pay rent or have an eviction notice hanging over you, the worry can be all consuming,’ explains Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter. ‘Often, it’s impossible to hide it from your kids, even though these are adult fears no parents want their child to experience. 

‘Many will spend sleepless nights this Christmas worrying about the bailiffs coming, where they will go, and if their next ‘home’ is going to be a grim hostel.  Our emergency helpline is receiving more calls about eviction than it did before the pandemic – as thousands of families fight to keep a roof over their heads.’

Krystalrose says she did everything she could to get the council to take notice of the mould in her privately rented accommodation – but they just kept shutting her down, telling her she had to go through the estate agent and landlord.

‘Instead of taking my word for it and helping, they weren’t listening to me,’ she remembers.

In a bid to find a new home, Krystalrose stayed on the phone non-stop, trying to sort out accommodation for her and her three-year-old daughter (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter) © Provided by Metro In a bid to find a new home, Krystalrose stayed on the phone non-stop, trying to sort out accommodation for her and her three-year-old daughter (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter)

Eventually, the stay at home mum managed to get an environmental officer from the council to come look at the property. ‘When she came, the walls were black. The wardrobe was green. And she just looked at it and said it was just a bit of mould – that my landlord would sort it out. I just felt completely dismissed, like I was nothing.’

However, the landlord didn’t sort it out. Instead, they sent a notice of eviction, with six months to vacate the property. ‘It was so disheartening,’ remembers Krystalrose.

In a bid to find a new home, she stayed on the phone non-stop, trying to sort out accommodation for her and her three-year-old daughter. 

‘The council said they wouldn’t do anything until the eviction date,’ Krystalrose remembers. ‘I was terrified of what was going to happen to us. There was a period of being scared every time someone knocked on the door, in case it was going to be a bailiff. I had never been through this before – I didn’t know what to expect.’

In the meantime, mould and damp continued seeping into all the family’s belongings. 

‘Everything I’d got to try and make it feel like a home was getting ruined,’ she recalls. ‘I had to borrow money to replace things that had been damaged and got myself into debt, falling behind on my rent. It just got to be too much and I lost everything that meant anything to me.’ 

In addition to evicting Krystalrose, the landlord filed a court order against her for missed rent payments that she hadn’t been able to afford to pay, and put a County Court Judgement (CCJ) on her name. 

‘It would have lasted for six years and affected my credit and my whole life going forwards,’ she says. ‘It’s very damaging. I wasn’t just worrying about getting out now, I was thinking about the next six years of my life – how it would impact my daughter’s future. It just led to more anxiety and depression.’

When her eviction day came in October, Krystalrose woke knowing she had to quickly get out of the property or face a £500 fine. 

‘I was thinking about the next six years of my life – how it would impact my daughter’s future,’ says Krystalrose (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter) © Provided by Metro ‘I was thinking about the next six years of my life – how it would impact my daughter’s future,’ says Krystalrose (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter)

With the help of a few friends and family, she managed to move everything up to the property she’d been offered by the council. Shortly after, Krystalrose successfully fought to get the CCJ removed from her name, opening her options for future housing.

‘I’m proud of myself, but I was failed by this system,’ she says. ‘I had to fight to save myself and my daughter.’

Shelter estimates that 55,000 children, along with their families, have already been evicted or removed from their homes in the last three months, and that 104,000 families have already received an eviction notice in the last month or are currently behind on their rent.

The drastically high numbers are in part a result of the hike in living costs, which when combined with reduced incomes from redundancies and furloughs in the pandemic, creates a financial emergency for families teetering on the edge. 

Fuel costs soaring, Universal Credit payments cut, and rent prices increasing – it’s all adding up and forcing many families to fall behind on rent payments, a near guarantee of eviction and impending homelessness this winter.

‘We’re now seeing a real crunch point as debts pile up and living costs soar,’ states Polly. ‘This has resulted in more eviction notices landing on doormats.’

‘The government needs to do better,’ says Shelter’s Polly Neate (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter) © Provided by Metro ‘The government needs to do better,’ says Shelter’s Polly Neate (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter)

While councils have a legal duty to house families with children, they are struggling to find suitable accommodation for those evicted from their homes. ‘This means children are spending long periods of time in run down and often grossly overcrowded temporary accommodation with no stability at all,’ warns Polly. 

‘Fundamentally, the government needs to tackle the root cause of homelessness  – which is a lack of homes people can afford to live in.  We don’t have enough good quality social homes, because we’ve barely built any for years.  Last year we built fewer than 6000, while over a million households sat on waiting lists – the government needs to do better.’

Each weekday morning, Chris Moore closes the door to his Sheffield flat and makes his way across the street to Shelter’s offices. Having once worked as a lawyer for large corporations, he decided to take a job doing something to help people experiencing homelessness. His days are spent on hour-long phone conversations guiding anxious people, including parents, on how to navigate evictions, the law, and homelessness.

‘As a parent, you feel one of your primary responsibilities is to provide a safe roof over your kid’s head – give them stability and certainty,’ Chris explains, describing the pressure families feel when they are threatened with the possibility of eviction. ‘I recently spoke to one mother who said she felt like such a failure – like she was letting them down – because her kids were in this situation.’

Many parents have described similar feelings to Chris in the seven years he has worked at Shelter. ‘But it’s often not their fault, just circumstances beyond their control,’ he insists. 

‘Section 21 evictions are the most straightforward, common types you get in the private rented sector. It’s referred to as the ‘no fault eviction’ because the landlords don’t have to say why they want the property back. So whether they want to sell it, move back into, or knock it down – these are all things they can evict people for without any sort of explanation or evidence.’ 

Support worker Chris has worked with Shelter for seven years (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter) © Provided by Metro Support worker Chris has worked with Shelter for seven years (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter)

In recent months, Chris says he has heard of several evictions resulting not from the renter’s finances, but the landlord’s. ‘I speak to people whose landlords needed to sell or move back into the rented homes because they were in financial difficulties themselves,’ he explains.

However, it isn’t just faltering finances instigating evictions – following the government’s eviction ban, which came into force at the start of lockdown in March 2020, the protections it offered for renters during Covid ended in June. 

‘Once that ban was lifted, landlords all over the country were suddenly getting papers ready to evict because they hadn’t been able to do it during that period,’ explains Chris. ‘Internally, we had been talking about a tsunami of evictions, incoming at some point. We’d always been prepped for that.’

Although the eviction ban helped Tomasz Serafin and his family avoid being forced out of their home after receiving notice to evacuate the property just weeks before lockdown, ever since a bailiff turned up and took their keys in June this year, they have been living in temporary accommodation in the garden of a hostel. 

With four children under the age of 12, Tomasz admits he never thought they would be made homeless. 

‘Before the eviction, I tried to contact the council – Redbridge Council – but there was no place for me to go,’ he recalls.

‘I tried going somewhere for private renting, but my income was not enough and I didn’t have any reference because I was being evicted. I was trying so hard but it just wasn’t possible.’ 

Tomasz says he prepared himself that he may have to sleep rough with his children (PIcture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter) © Provided by Metro Tomasz says he prepared himself that he may have to sleep rough with his children (PIcture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter)

With Tomasz bringing home £440 per week from his work looking after council properties, and the cost of private rentals in his area far out of his price range – starting at least £1,600 per month – he knew he was running out of options. 

That June day when the family were told to leave their home, he remembers, ‘I took my kids to the park to play at the playground. I just kept calling the council for help and to figure out next steps. I had so much stress. What was going on? What’s next? What’s going to happen?’ 

He even prepared himself that he may have to sleep rough with his children until the council found a property for him to stay in. By the end of the day, the council had assigned Tomasz and his family a place at a hostel as emergency accommodation.

Tomasz lives in temporary housing with his wife and their four children under 12 (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter) © Provided by Metro Tomasz lives in temporary housing with his wife and their four children under 12 (Picture: Alexandra Smart/Shelter)

‘When we first got there, the staff said they only had a space big enough for a maximum of five people,’ he remembers.

‘They told me to wait a few minutes to try to sort something out and then put us in a one room, brick shed in the garden of the hostel. 

It’s only a couple of metres long – we have four beds in the room, one small table for the kids to do homework, and no kitchen.’ 

If Tomasz wants to make a cup of tea in the morning or get breakfast ready for his family, he has to get dressed, cross the garden, ring the doorbell of the hostel, and wait for staff to let him in. 

The toilet and shower weren’t working properly for months either, and when he asked for repairs, no one came to fix them. He eventually managed to repair them himself.

Tomasz’s son even made a video to highlight the stark conditions the family are forced to live in.

‘The heating only comes on for a few hours in the daytime,’ Tomasz says. ‘In the night, it is completely off.

‘My youngest daughter, who is three, asks me when we are going to move back home, while my other kids try to stay quiet about it. They don’t want to say to their friends where they live.’

Thomasz adds that as there is no wi-fi in the shed, his oldest will often run through the garden and work on his homework from the hallway of the hostel. ‘School work is so difficult,’ he says. ‘As a lot of homework needs internet access, I contacted school and told them what was happening so the kids wouldn’t get in trouble.’

For Tomasz and his family, there seems to be no end in sight to obtaining suitable housing. 

He and his wife are often overwhelmed by the commotion of four young children in the small shed. ‘Sometimes, I just go out for a couple of minutes in the garden to breathe,’ he admits. ‘My wife does as well. It’s just all too much.’

To donate to Shelter and help families facing homelessness this Christmas, please visit shelter.org.uk/donate.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/eviction-crisis-how-200000-children-could-be-homeless-this-christmas/ar-AAS6Xwu

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